By Ryn Gargulinski: QCS
Wednesday’s cold, wet weather did not deter retired pilot John Tuel or thousands of others from sticking around to watch the 13th annual Rotary Air Show at Tucumcari’s Municipal Airport.
Tuel said he visits his sister in Tucumcari every year but this time he lucked out when his visit fell at the right time and they got tickets. He also said he first learned to fly when a student of his back in the early 1960s took him up in a plane and then handed over the controls.
“I didn’t get real worried,” Tuel said of his first taste of the pilot’s seat. “I knew he had a set of controls and wouldn’t let me crash.”
Although Tuel said he didn’t start taking formal lessons until years later from his son-in-law and never flew professionally, his first flight planted the seed that led to a lifelong fascination with airplanes.
That same fascination was perhaps the case for many folks who stayed in the rain to watch acts that included Bob Carlton on his twin jet sailplane, Greg Poe’s Edge 540, an A-10 demo by Maj. Rob Borgan, the heritage flights, John Mohr, Eric Beard’s Yak 54 or the aerobatic team of Royal Canadian Airforce Snowbirds.
One of the more notable attractions was the Flash FireJet truck that blasted down the runway spewing a noisy plume of smoke, making children run in laughter and a few of them cry.
“I never flew anything like that,” Tuel said of the massive engine, adding most of his flights have been in small private planes across Tulsa, Okla., or over Texas.
Tucumcari’s 6-year-old Santiago Alires, who was at the show with his grandmother Carmen Pino, said he’s also been in a plane. “I went to California,” he said. “It was good.”
Pino called the air show the most exciting thing in Tucumcari. Santiago said he loved the “flips” performed by the stunt-plane pilots.
Other youngsters in attendance included about 75 from Grady who came with their school. Second-grade teacher Robin Isler said they found out about the air show at the last minute and threw the field trip together for the preschoolers through fifth graders.
“We love it,” she said. “I can already hear them ooohing and ahhhing.”
Isler said an added bonus was the kids were allowed to board some of the airplanes on the ground at no charge and were able to talk to some crew members.
Others in the crowd had alternate agendas. “We came to check out the girls,” said Adrian Vargas, a senior at Tucumcari High School.
Although Vargas said the airplane antics were secondary, he still used some of the stunts as a pick-up line. “When they make that big heart in the sky, I tell the girl ‘See, that’s for you.’”
Although dozens of cars were streaming out the exit when the rain picked up by the show’s halfway point, still more were just arriving.
“You don’t have an air show in this weather,” said Ed Fedorczyk, who visits family every year and attends the show. Ironically, he comes from Sun City, Calif.
“We’re crazy to be here in this weather — but we come,” he said.